Michaela Leonard laughs on the reminiscence of her first coaching session with the Brumbies. “After I needed to ask what a maul was!” she says with a smile.
Leonard had been satisfied to attend the trial in 2018 by a few team-mates she had met by means of rugby league on the time and didn’t arrive with any expectations, having by no means performed 15s earlier than.
However the attributes that had as soon as made her a standout basketball participant in her youth marked her out as a prospect for the Tremendous W facet, and Leonard has been a keen and keen pupil ever since.
She would quickly grasp the breakdown and all the opposite vagaries of rugby, incomes her first cap for the Wallaroos inside 18 months of pitching up on the Brumbies.
Having dabbled with league and sevens after drifting away from basketball, she had discovered her sport.
A bit of over 5 years on from that trial in Canberra, Leonard will captain the Wallaroos for the fourth time of their O’Reilly Cup match in opposition to the Black Ferns at FMG Stadium on Saturday.
It’s the newest step on a exceptional journey that has additionally included taking part in stopovers in New Zealand’s South Island and England’s South-West, through a primary Rugby World Cup. Not dangerous for somebody who solely took up the sport at 23.
“I rely myself fortunate on a regular basis,” Leonard tells RugbyPass. “From 5 years in the past to now, I’d have by no means imagined a whole lot of the issues that I’ve been in a position to do, and I’ve been lucky sufficient to expertise.
“I don’t suppose I’d have instructed you that I’d have performed Tremendous Rugby not to mention travelled the world and performed in three completely different nations. And now to captain your nation is the largest honour I may’ve ever imagined and doubtless one which I may have solely dreamed would come true.
“So, positively nothing I foresaw, and it was an enormous shock to me, even receiving the decision previous to this match and [being] requested if I’d be keen to keep up this place for the upcoming Laurie O’Reilly sport and doubtlessly into WXV as nicely.
“It’s an unbelievable honour and I believe most likely a second that may maintain a whole lot of pleasure and sentiment for me for the remainder of my life.”
Leonard was first requested to guide her nation in June within the absence of everlasting captain Piper Duck, who continues to be sidelined by an ankle harm, forward of the primary O’Reilly Cup encounter of the 12 months.
That match drew an Australian document crowd for a ladies’s check of seven,055 to Kayo Stadium however led to catastrophe for the Wallaroos as they slipped to a 50-0 defeat to the Black Ferns.
The style of the loss clearly nonetheless stings Leonard, who says it “positively wasn’t how we wished to play, and it wasn’t the efficiency we supposed to place out on the sector”.
“I believe there was an enormous shift all through the group of desirous to do higher and be higher,” Leonard provides. “There’s an understanding that that efficiency isn’t what it means to be a Wallaroo.”
As captain, Leonard would have been on the forefront of driving that message and the squad displayed its resilience in Ottawa ten days later to beat the USA 58-17 to successfully safe qualification for WXV 1.
Actually, the stand-in skipper did sufficient in powerful circumstances to earn the belief of coach Jay Tregonning and her team-mates forward of their end-of-year commitments in New Zealand.
“For me, rising into the function has been a studying curve and doubtless a steady studying curve. Over the 4 weeks by means of the Pacific 4 match in Canada, I realized lots from day one and I’ve been actually lucky that the help group and the management group have been round to assist.
“I believe it’s been a studying course of for all of us. I believe the captaincy and [being] a frontrunner, it’s an unbelievable honour, an unbelievable title. But it surely actually comes right down to a large number of individuals, whether or not that be employees, whether or not that be the six individuals in our management workforce, the older skilled gamers, the youthful people which have nice concepts and nice expertise as nicely.
“I believe it’s actually a shared function and I’ve been actually lucky that there’s been such an excellent group round this squad and a gaggle of skilled gamers which were right here to supply their perception, their experiences, their assist and I assume to assist take the load.”
That group of gamers has had entry to semi-professional contracts for the reason that begin of this 12 months, one thing that, in accordance with Leonard, has allowed them to deal with rugby greater than ever.
“There’s an enormous sacrifice that comes into taking part in rugby as most gamers which might be under full skilled stage perceive,” Leonard says. “Whether or not that be time, whether or not that’s spreading between uni commitments, work commitments and I believe the introduction of a cost base… has simply added a little bit of safety.
“That little little bit of help permits you to take the break day to journey and to tour and to say to work, ‘Look, possibly I must amend these hours right here or regulate these hours right here’. To not need to stress about balancing your work and your research life permits you to commit simply that little bit extra of your vitality and extra of your time into doing what we love.”
Rugby Australia introduced final week that the recruitment course of for a full-time Wallaroos coach was underneath approach, as a part of the union’s participation in World Rugby’s Speed up programme.
Leonard welcomed the event and is hopeful that funding could be discovered to make full-time contracts a chance for the gamers too.
“I [hope] that funding can proceed coming into the sport as a result of I can solely think about what this workforce can do and the place it could possibly go together with that chance to doubtlessly prepare full-time or be collectively for longer durations,” she provides.
Leonard has not too long ago accomplished a distance studying post-graduate course in veterinary physiotherapy with a view to translating her “love for sport” right into a post-playing profession serving to each individuals and animals.
For now, although, she is targeted on the job in hand and main the Wallaroos into the assorted challenges of WXV 1 on the again of a first-ever win in opposition to the Black Ferns.
“I believe you’re loopy for those who don’t go into each sport believing in your self and believing that you’ve got an excellent shot at profitable,” insists Leonard, who has confronted New Zealand seven occasions in her quick check profession.
“Clearly, that’s the explanation we play and the explanation we get on the market and wish to play and placed on this jersey and symbolize what it means to be Australian and to be a Wallaroo.
“For us, I believe it’s going to come back right down to the straightforward issues. So, executing our set-piece, setting a platform that we are able to play off and create the alternatives that we wish to assault.”
No matter occurs in Hamilton, although, it’s clear that Leonard made the best choice to attend that trial again in 2018.
“I all the time thought I used to be going to develop up and go to school and play basketball in America and hopefully play for Australia in a special sport. So, I assume one little choice or one little flip in your life can actually set you on a brand new path,” she says.
“I’m positively grateful that I confirmed up for that league coaching that day and positively grateful that there was a gaggle of ladies there that knew what the union world may provide and the way good the rugby neighborhood might be.
“I owe it to them and I owe it to everybody that I’ve met daily since then that’s made me wish to keep in and hold going forward as a result of among the issues that we get to expertise being a part of this sport, and a part of the rugby household as it’s everywhere in the world, it’s simply nothing that I can examine to the expertise I’ve had in different sports activities or different workplaces.”